How Ageism Victimises Us All

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Despite the beauty industry making huge strides in diversity and inclusion, ageism is still a problem that hounds us all. Particularly if you’re a woman or femme-presenting person, society has an obsession with getting us to believe that the natural biological process of ageing is something that should be feared and avoided at all costs.

How Did We End up in This Mess?

In human society throughout history, it wasn’t expected that many adults would reach old-age. During the 1700s, when life expectancy was around 39 years of age, older adults were revered as a source of knowledge and local tradition.

While attitudes like this still persevere in the East and some Western societies, rapid industrialisation and shifting values marked a major change in how we see older people and treat the ageing process.

With societal norms shifting towards individualism over collectivism and placing greater value on productivity, we start to see ageism creep in during the 1900s.

The term “ageism” itself was coined in 1969 to describe the increasing prejudice against older adults which largely stemmed from the fact that older adults tended to be less productive, more susceptible to illness, and required more social support.

As humans are wont to do, we then internalised these prejudices of ageing, and as we too aged, would apply that prejudiced thinking to ourselves. So, we began to see ageing as something that would bring societal shame upon ourselves.

Gillette Safety Razor Company. Scanned by Duke University Libraries., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“An embarrassing personal problem”

Gillette Safety Razor Company. Scanned by Duke University Libraries., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Why Aren’t Women Allowed to Age?

Let’s take a look at an example of how gendered beauty ideals are influenced by marketing in the beauty industry.

While there’s evidence that women removed body hair as far back as Ancient Egypt, everything changed in the 1900s when Gillette released the first razor for women to capitalise on the new role of women as consumers. At the same time, they started the first anti-underarm hair campaign, pushing their product as a necessity if women wanted to wear the short sleeve and sleeveless garments that were in fashion at the time.

The rest, as they say, is history. Beauty trends have largely been influenced not only by marketing but by highly sexualised ideals of what a woman should look like, as well as magazines, TV, movies, and other media.

Ageism in the beauty and skincare industry is, at its heart, an extremely gendered discussion. Men and masc-presenting people are largely untargeted by this anti-ageing push because they’re largely unaffected by the male gaze that treats women’s bodies as a project that needs to be fixed.

This normalisation that men are allowed to age while women must always appear young is reinforced in plenty of ways.

Let’s take, for example, Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow, a hit 2014 science-fiction film. Tom Cruise is well-know for co-starring with women who are significantly younger than him, and this is no exception. With Cruise being 20 years older than Blunt, it demonstrates the penchant for Hollywood to continuously cast younger women as the love interest of older men.

The beauty industry as a whole continues to fuel this perception through marketing imagery. Anti-ageing copy uses vernacular like “decline” and terms like “ageing” or “old” are given negative connotations.

Many also make the covert claim that older skin looks unhealthy, sallow, or pale, and this can only be avoided with anti-ageing products.

Models cast in these promotions tend to either be teenagers or in their early 20s, and are often slim, white, and have been manipulated using Photoshop or other editing software to appear impossibly flawless.

In other examples, a model’s face may have a line drawn down the middle, with one side showing their older “true” skin, and the other side clearly touched up, brightened, and smoothed using editing software.

It’s not just the beauty industry, either. It’s easy to manipulate how old we look using our smartphones, particularly with so-called “anti-ageing” filters or apps that can either make us look younger or older, like FaceTune. All of this has resulted in a culture where any signs of ageing, particularly with women and femme-presenting people, is to be hidden, removed, or “fixed”.

Vintage Palmolive soap advert

Unfortunately, all of this comes to a head when we consider how the ageing process is seen differently between men and women.

How Ageism Affects Our Self-Esteem

Modern consumer culture treats our bodies as capital, and this is nowhere more apparent than how society treats women. This leads to a culture where ageing is seen as depreciation of our body’s worth because we grow to associate ageing with the loss of our beauty.

Our perception of our own beauty, whether we think so or not, has a great impact on our self-esteem and confidence, both of which can have a significant impact on the life choices we make.

Research consistently finds that people who have a positive evaluation of their appearance also report higher self-esteem and vice versa, with this perception appearing at a surprisingly young age.

Unfortunately, all of this comes to a head when we consider how the ageing process is seen differently between men and women. Phrases like “silver fox” glorify older men, whose greying hair and wrinkles are seen as distinguished. Conversely, women with grey hair routinely dye it to mask their age, with women in male-dominated industries quoting concerns over how their physical appearance affects their social identity. Wrinkles on women are also generally considered to make them look unhealthy, tired, or “past it”.

You’ll often routinely hear people swoon over older actors saying that “men get better with age”, but once women reach 40, you’ll often hear them say “well, it’s all downhill from here!”. People talk about “ageing gracefully” without realising this is simply congratulating someone for not having wrinkles or any signs of the natural ageing process.

But How Do We Break this Cycle?

It’s time we understood anti-ageing claims as the marketing ploy they are. Age isn’t a problem that needs to be fixed by some “miracle” cure, but rather, it’s a fact of life. Marketing is everywhere, and we know it’s hard to escape the societal expectations it brings with it. But, for the sake of our children and our mental health, we need to start seeing marketing for what it is – a way to convince us we have issues that only products from a billion-dollar brand can fix.

Instead of falling prey to ageist anti-ageing marketing, we can instead opt for a targeted skincare routine that improves our skin’s health, not attempts to reverse a natural biological process. 

Why Whitfords Doesn’t Use the Term Anti-Ageing

The ageing process is a natural process that can’t be controlled. Despite the beauty industry’s claims to the contrary, products that are designed to be “anti-ageing” can’t halt or even slow the biological process that skin goes through as you get older.

However, that’s not to say that skincare has no effect on older or damaged skin. Given that research shows that the rate our skin ages is influenced more by personal and environmental factors like UV exposure, smoking, alcohol consumption, air pollution, our diet, and more, skincare can play a vital role in negating or controlling the effects of skin damage.

With all of that in mind, that’s why we’re against the term anti-ageing in skincare, and why we don’t use ageist marketing that shows flawless young models using our products. We know that ageing is a natural human process, and we believe in destroying the stigma that unfairly accompanies that.

Of course, we’re not opposed to using innovative products and ingredients that, after careful study and consideration, we’ve found have a positive impact on skin damage caused by environmental and personal factors.

That’s why we use ingredients like Bilberry Leaf Extract, full of antioxidants and a natural source of lactic acid to help with skin damage and the innovative Ectoin natural which is obtained from a fermentation process using bacteria found in extreme environments in nature. Ectoin shields the outer layer of the skin from allergens, air pollution, dryness and UV light and has outstanding efficacy proven in numerous in-vivo, in-vitro studies and clinical trials.

We believe that every one of our customers is naturally beautiful and deserves efficacious skincare that helps keep their skin healthy. And, we believe that skincare should be about self-care, self-love, and it should be indulgent.

We all deserve to have self-care routines and moments that encourage us to take care of our health, both mentally and physically, and Whitfords is here to show you that your age should never be a barrier to wellbeing.

 

Sources:

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Coupland J. (2003) Ageist Ideology and Discourses of Control in Skincare Product Marketing. In: Coupland J., Gwyn R. (eds) Discourse, the Body, and Identity. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781403918543_7

Farage, M.A., Miller, K.W., Elsner, P. and Maibach, H.I. (2008), Intrinsic and extrinsic factors in skin ageing: a review. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 30: 87-95. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2494.2007.00415.x

Harter, Susan. Is self-esteem only skin-deep? The inextricable link between physical appearance and self-esteem. Reclaiming Children and Youth; Bloomington Vol. 9, Iss. 3,  (Fall 2000): 133-138.

López Cantos, Francisco. (2016). Aging, science and cosmetics advertising. Eternity in a drop of cream. Vivat Academia. 10.15178/va.2016.135.41-56.